From Little Rock to New York, Bobby Portis Relishes Underdog Role

Few 6-11, 254-pound multimillionaires who walk this earth can legitimately claim to be an “underdog.” Bobby Portis is one of them. 

From his days sleeping on friends’ couches as a teen to dealing with doubters on the NBA level, Portis has embraced the underdog role — to the point of wearing a silver “UNDERDOG” chain around his neck. 

He’ll play that role next for his new team, the New York Knicks. The Knicks, who finished with the NBA’s worst record last season, have overhauled their roster this summer with free agent signings and the drafting of Duke star RJ Barrett. After failing to sign Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant, according to sports betting sites in the USA their odds of winning the 2020 Championship dropped, but it is still too early to say since the season hasn’t started yet.

But the Knicks did sign Portis, who averaged 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds a game this spring with the Wizards, for $31 million over two years. Almost immediately, the deal raised eyebrows. Why should Portis, who has started only 49 of 249 career games for mediocre NBA teams, get that much? Deadspin’s Chris Thompson wrote that Portis’ deal looks like massive overpaying compared to the contracts signed by other centers on winning teams like Enes Kanter ($10 million for two years) and Kevin Looney ($15 million for three years). 

“Suffice to say the Knicks will be hard-pressed to get $15.5 million worth of value out of Portis in a league where Kanter is making $5 million.”

Portis takes the naysaying in stride. He’s only the latest in a legacy of NBA Arkansan Knicks to overcome haters, including Lonoke County native “Sweetwater” Clifton, the first black African American to sign with and play for an NBA team. The doubt is old hat for a Razorback from one of the smallest states in the South. 

Portis sees a flood of players from bigger states around the league but “being from Arkansas, from Little Rock, we can only name like 3-4 players,” he told SLAM. “I feel like we are all really underdogs. We don’t have that guy each and every year who’s going to come out of the draft.”

Bobby Portis Learns to Grind Early On

Portis grew up as the eldest of four sons. Their mother, Tina, struggled to keep their lives stable despite working two jobs. He recalls they got evicted from various apartments “six or seven” times. “When you see your mom taking care of four kids by herself and working hard on a day-to-day basis, my other brothers became my kids ‘cause I’m the one that’s there. When I was that young, I was a man,” he told Closeup360.  “I had to become a man.”

Portis was the one who helped his brothers with their homework, taught them to wash and iron their clothes and got them out of bed in the morning. Sometimes, it was Portis getting his mother out of bed after her day work at National Car Rental. 

“I would feel bad waking up [my mom] to ask her to take me to the gym. There was no Uber or Lyft and even if there was, we couldn’t pay for it,” Bobby said. “She would just sit outside sleeping in the car while I’m working out.” Afterwards, they returned home where Tina got dressed for her night work at American Airlines. 

To this day, Portis said, Tina still gets up at four in the morning to deliver bread to supermarkets across Little Rock. Portis has made more than enough money to provide for her, but she refuses to quit.

Bobby Portis Just Can’t Talking ‘Bout Being an Underdog

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